I had the nicest office I’ve ever had. It had big windows overlooking Boston Harbor and the city skyline. Earlier this summer, I watched “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution, make its bi-annual turn-around in the harbor. I didn’t spend much time sitting there looking out the window, but it was very nice.
Two months ago, I moved downstairs to a cube. My assistant, with whom I’ve worked remotely for two years, moved in across the aisle. The staff get a real kick out of this – “the Deputy CIO of Partners Healthcare is in a cube, hahaha.”
John Glaser formed our Department in 1994 by merging the IS Departments of Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals. Since then, we have grown to 1,600 people serving the technology needs of eight acute care hospitals an extensive non-acute network and thousands of physicians and researchers. Generally, we’d add a permanent space for each employee we hired.
I oversee the core infrastructure teams and administration of the Department. I view the mission of our groups to provide the technical and administrative services to our hospitals, physicians and researchers as efficiently as possible. As you might imagine, real estate costs can be a large budget line item, especially in Boston.
Many now know that we have selected Epic as a vendor partner for clinical and revenue cycle systems. The project, known as Partners eCare, needs to ramp up quickly, but it’s very difficult to build out the necessary space in such a short time frame. I suggested two ways my groups could serve the organization.
First, about 200 of my 400 employees work at my location. Anecdotal observation tells me that on any given day, about half of them need to use their assigned spaces. Many of them are out at the hospitals or at meetings in other locations. We have done more empirical studies about space use too, so I feel I’m on solid ground. We offered to use “free address” space for our 200 staff. This means that when they show up, they work in whatever space is available rather than having assigned space.
To make space for the Partners eCare program at our Wellesley location, we will move some staff from that office to my location in Charlestown. This is not usually popular – many people live west and south of the city, so a move from Wellesley to Charlestown often increases commuting time. Also, the Wellesley location has ample free parking, while Charlestown has paid parking, if available at all. My thought was, “If Wellesley people are going to have the inconvenience of moving to Charlestown, my people can have the inconvenience of free address space.”
Some of our staff need permanent spaces and that can be accommodated. The bigger picture, however, is that we can meet this business need quickly and we can reduce our costs, even if the overall corporate costs don’t go down yet.
There is no doubt that this isn’t a crowd-pleaser. Many of our folks will not like losing permanent space. Since I’ve been in this position, I’ve talked a lot about how our role is to support the mission of Partners – Patient Care, Research, Teaching and Community Health — and about our three-part strategic plan of Care Redesign, Patient Affordability and Reputation. It’s very important to me that my staff internalize these goals and view them as more important than their personal preferences.
In an effort to walk my own talk, my second suggestion was to vacate my expansive office for a cube so we could house up to four staff in that location. I wanted to set an example and, frankly, we needed the space. Further, I was only there a third of the time and despite our policy of others using open space, people were reluctant to use the Deputy CIO’s office.
My Directors scratched their heads, but were supportive. Our facilities manager was incredulous. “We have time,” she said, “You don’t have to do this now.” I was adamant. I didn’t want to ask staff to move to free address space without making this move myself. By the way, even my cube may not be permanent when we move to free address space.
Reactions have been very interesting. Several leaders and staff level folks have offered me their offices. “You shouldn’t be in a cube, you can have mine.” I turned them down. I told them I didn’t need them to give up their offices, but if they wanted to be more flexible with space, that would be great. I suggested that maybe they wanted to use that asset as a way to reward and recognize high-performing staff.
I like my cube. People come by to joke about the Deputy CIO being in a cube, but it’s great to connect with them in a way I wouldn’t if I was up in my office. There really is plenty of private space. If I have to meet a direct report or take a private call, I have easily found places to duck in without even making a reservation.
I don’t stand on ceremony. I’m passionate about our patients getting excellent care. I want our clinicians and researchers to have the information they need at the time they need it. I want my staff to be productive. As great as my office was, these other outcomes are my real joy.
Scott MacLean is also Chair-Elect of HIMSS.